There are days when I feel like I am living in the Twilight Zone; here we are, in 2012, and suddenly pinball is back to being at the forefront of the gaming industry. Thanks to the efforts of Zen Studios and their Pinball FX series, the genre is back in the forefront of gamer’s minds. With pinball being mainstream once again, it was only a matter of time before someone started bringing back some of the classic tables that made the genre popular in the first place.
That is where FarSight Studios comes into the picture. The developer has been making the Pinball Hall of Fame Collections for a few generations now but the genre has grown since then, and their latest release has come out at just the right time. The Pinball Arcade, which is currently available on the PlayStation Network (playable on both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita) and Xbox Live Arcade, takes a different approach than the previous releases. This time around, FarSight has produced a platform, rather than an individual game, which will house a ever-expanding library of emulated versions of classic pinball tables.
There are four tables included with the base game:
- Black Hole: Gottlieb’s 1981 classic game which set itself apart from the rest of the genre by offering two different playfields.
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: The 2004 table that brought players into the fascinating world of Ripley’s, which brought the weird and strange to life.
- Tales of the Arabian Nights: Considered a masterpiece amidst the genre, this 1996 table pits players in a battle against an evil Genie.
- Theatre of Magic: Bally Midway’s 1995 critically acclaimed table that was widely known for great effects including levitating and disappearing balls.
All four tables are painstakingly recreated using the Pinball Arcade platform. It is important to remember going in that these are emulated versions of classic tables, not newly created layouts. Some of the design decisions, particularly with Black Hole, seem simple and antiquated; that is because they are as the table was originally produced more than 30 years ago. None of these tables are as sophisticated and flashy as something like the various Marvel tables or Epic Quest in Pinball FX2. These designs had to actually work in real life, which means they have to be practical. This may turn off some people as these tables aren’t as sophisticated as some of the video ones; that doesn’t mean that they aren’t as fun.
Seeing as how all of the tables featured in the game are replicas of real-life pinball machines, there is a bit of historic information and lore behind them all. These aren’t random selections from the genre’s catalog of tables but rather selections based on their contribution to the industry and importance to the genre. FarSight knows this and has included a variety of historical information and marketing materials for your perusal. It is nice to be able to read through detailed information regarding the history tables creation and success in the market as well as viewing the various marketing flyers that were used to sell them to distributors. It is a nice touch and something that history and pinball buffs alike will enjoy.
Pinball purists will also appreciate the detailed strategy guides and instructions included with each of the tables. These go into great detail to explain the various missions and scoring systems used on each of the individual tables. Some of the missions and objectives on these tables can get pretty complicated, especially on Theatre of Magic; it is nice to see step by step instructions on what you need to do to get all of the bonuses and to achieve the highest scores with detailed, step by step instructions which even feature images. These work great with the included goals that FarSight has added to each table which will challenge you to basically learn and master each table. Once you knock each of them out, you will be given another “Wizard: list which will push you even harder. It all serves to make you a batter player on each table and to strengthen your understanding of the pinball genre’s gameplay mechanics.
In addition to design differences with modern video pinball tables, there is also a noticeable difference in the physics engine; this is the one area that I will definitely commend the game for.In playing the Pinball Arcade, I was quickly reminded of the differences between video pinball and the real deal, specifically the manner in which the ball reacts and how it “feels”. In playing video pinball for the past couple of years, I forgot that pinballs are actually made of steel, and I am sure you know, that steel isn’t light. These small balls have quite a heft to them, and it is their weight that drives the gameplay experience on an actual table. The speed of the ball on these tables will border on “unseeable” at times, just as it would in real life.
The ball isn’t nearly as predictable as the video-counterparts either. FarSight absolutely nailed the physics. Your ball will take awkward bounces and consistently nailing target rails and openings on the playfield will take perfect timing and a great “feel” for the “lay of the land”. This is the same sort of gameplay that made / makes actual pinball tables enjoyable; real tables define the concept of “easy to learn, difficult to master”. If you haven’t experienced true pinball gameplay before, Pinball Arcade will be a hard lesson in the genre.
FarSight has approached the concept of controls in a simple and smart manner as well. On the Vita, you have the options of using either the left and right triggers or utilizing the left and right portions of the touch screen. In terms of comfort, the use of the triggers is easily the best option, and the most responsive. There is a noticeable lag present when using the touch option, but that setup is required when taking advantage of the game’s most charming feature: altering the perspective of the playfield by turning the Vita on its side.
Since the Vita has a true widescreen perspective in terms of the shape of its screen, its proportions make it optimal for emulating the true perspective of the table. When playing on either a television screen or the standard positioning of the vita, the game utilizes a “pan and scan” and zooming method of following the ball; when the system is turned though, it is locked in a persistent view that mimics the actual pinball experience. Visually, this is my preferred method of playing but unfortunately the slight lag in the touch screen controls that are used in this setup make it hard to enjoy on the more intense tables such as Arabian Nights.
Another aspect that really holds this particular collection back from achieving its true potential is the lack of features used on the tables. The platform is set up to offer a ton of great options including challenges between friends and the ability to host tournaments on a given table. This things could seriously extend the replay value of the game, and are teased in this package, but attempting to utilize them only takes the wind out of your sails. All of these features are “coming soon” or will be implemented once more tables are launched on the platform. This makes no sense to me.
We have a solid starter collection of tables included in the package and the foundation for a great game, but features such as this are simply held back to be added at a later time (despite being shown throughout the experience). Other standard features, such as leaderboards, are included but have become the status quo for any game released in this generation and are expected by default.
The Pinball Arcade is off to a great start but Farsight has their work cut out for them in order to compete with the competition. It has already been revealed that there are tons of classic titles (tables) on the horizon such as Cirqus Voltaire, The Twilight Zone, and one of my personal favorites, FunHouse; as a matter of fact, some of them are already available on the mobile platforms of the game. They just need to work on building up their catalog of tables on the consoles and implementing all of the features that we have been promised in order to make a splash in this re-emerging genre. This is all possible though if they simply continue to do what they are already doing. If you are someone who enjoys a good game of pinball and can appreciate the history aspect of these classic tables, this package isn’t just your only option, it is your best one.
The Pinball Arcade is an excellent platform for emulating the classic tables that made the pinball genre as great as it was. An accurate physics engine and an insane attention to the level of details make the future bright for the game. Now FarSight just needs to begin putting its licensing agreements to use and roll out more tables as well as make use of the various features being promised. Until then, it fails to live up to its potential.
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